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10 Things We Learned From 10 Craft Shows in 15 Weeks

by Robert Guzzo, co-founder of Handcrafted Honey Bee

I know I’m in trouble when my wife says to me: “I have a crazy idea.”

As soon as I hear those words, I brace myself. I listen respectfully. I nod at the appropriate times. And inside I’m thinking: there’s no way this is ever going to work.

But I have learned to never underestimate the persuasive powers of a determined woman.

By the end of the conversation, Stacia’s enthusiasm, vision, and commitment have converted me from denial to bargaining to acceptance…all the way to enthusiastic support. I’m not simply going along with her crazy idea. God bless her, my wife is able to make me a full-blown convert to the Church of Crazy.

10 Shows in 15 Weeks

And so it was back in December of 2014. As the two of us planned out our business objectives and strategy for the coming year, Stacia said to me: “I have a crazy idea. Why don’t we apply to some of the big Spring craft shows in the area?”

We looked at the calendar and planned out dates for five really awesome shows from the end of April to the end of June. It would be a big push in June, with a Southern California show every other week capped off by a road-trip up to Seattle (that’s right–“in the area” included the Pacific Northwest!)

We planned it out carefully. We considered all the logistical details. We had it all figured out.

And then it got bigger.

We were invited to a few nighttime pop-ups. Then we got into an awesome show in San Francisco. Then we were invited to a once-in -a-lifetime wholesale pitch event in New York. Suddenly five shows in eight weeks turned into 10 shows in 15 weeks. You learn an awful lot during an intense period of focused activity, and this experience was no different.

Here are some of the things we learned over the last three months. Even if you’re not as crazy as Stacia or me, you’ll be able to apply many of these lessons to the challenges you face.

1. It’s all about relationships

When we started, we were focused on the sales we hoped to make at these shows. Then something truly surprising happened. We started to meet some really interesting people, people that wanted to connect with us on a much deeper level than a simple transaction.

This was such a powerful experience that we decided to change the structure of our booth in order to encourage even more connections. We featured a Do-It-Yourself Custom Clay Mask Bar that encouraged people to dip their toes into DIY skin care.

I can’t begin to tell you just how many great conversations we had with people while they were crafting their own clay facials. Suddenly, people weren’t just coming to the booth to purchase a kit, they were coming for a cool experience. And we were creating long lasting connections with our customers.

2. A good support network makes all the difference

It wasn’t easy trying to pull off so many shows in such a short span. There was almost no time to relax and recharge our batteries. Every moment that we weren’t at a show, we were preparing for a show. In those moments, you realize the value of a great network of support.

Without the love, support and hard work of friends, family, and our dedicated interns, there is no way we could have pulled off something of this magnitude. Production, packaging, set-up, tear-down, meals, lodging, babysitting, encouragement, validation–the abundance of help we received made all the difference (huge shoutout to Stacia’s parents for being the tireless babysitters of our two young boys for every single show!).

It’s important to find professional support networks too. For Stacia, the network of makers and business leaders in two fantastic groups–Lela Barker’s Lucky Break University and Donna Maria Coles Johnson’s Indie Business Network–contributed a priceless amount of creative ideas, positive encouragement, and constructive feedback that made every show more successful than the last. At several of the shows, Sharon Fain, founder of the Academy of Handmade (of which we are a proud member) also came out to show her support and break out Periscope! For me, joining the seanwes Community was one of the best things I have ever done. Being surrounded by a community of incredibly smart, talented, and committed people helps to motivate you and hold you accountable.

3. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you believe

Our business believes that women are beautiful and worthy just as they are, that their unique gifts and talents make this world a more beautiful place, that creating skin care from scratch is empowering. It’s not just our business ethos, we truly believe it.

As a man, it is really hard to express that sentiment to a woman you don’t know without feeling awkward or strange. But the more I spoke about what I believe and what our company stands for, the less awkward it got. By getting over my hesitancy, I became better at articulating our beliefs and values with each person I met. And that message spoke to the heart of so many women’s struggles.

4. You don’t know what you’re capable of until you try

Here is the partial list of the things we accomplished in 15 weeks. If you had told me 6 months ago that we could do any of these, I would have said you were nuts:

  • Constructing portable hard walls for a trade show style booth
  • Laying down laminate flooring in a booth…and deciding never to do that again
  • Over 30 days of daily blog posts
  • Driving 2,300 miles round trip in a truck packed to the ceiling with materials for craft shows
  • Grabbing a red-eye to NYC for Etsy Open Call right after wrapping a three-day craft show in San Francisco
  • Landing our first wholesale account, followed by several more in those 15 weeks

All of these things seemed out of our reach until we decided to try and reach for them. But now that we have done it, none of them seem as difficult or scary as they once did. By trying your best and accepting that you may fall short, you shine light into the dark shadows of inadequacy, failure, and imperfection. Until you try, you don’t really know what your limits are.

5. Know your limits

As we jumped into action, we started to get a better sense of our limits and respect them. Even so, we pressed pretty hard against our physical limitations, fighting fatigue, illness, and stress. At the end of it all, we were wiped out, and there was still a lot of work to be done.

Everything we do has a cost, in time, focus, energy and effort. It is important to understand that cost, in order to be intentional about our choices.

6. Don’t be attached to an outcome

It all comes down to how you measure success.

It’s a funny thing: the shows that felt like we did our best were the shows where we focused on forming new friendships, rather than counting sales or newsletter signups. The shows with the most appreciative customers, the most welcoming organizers, the friendliest fellow vendors–these are the shows that we’ll want to return to again and again. By letting go of our attachment to an outcome, we opened up the possibility for so many unexpected blessings.

7. You can’t control everything

Boy, did we ever learn this lesson over and over again! We planned things down to a tee, and still there were so many things outside our control. We had outdoor shows in the rain and blistering heat. We were at a show that was windy enough to blow an entire tent upside down! We had prime locations and…not so prime locations.

Just like attachment to an outcome, in our desire to control everything, we can end up missing out on some really good things. That day it rained, we saw a friend of ours that we haven’t seen in years. Even when it was windy, we had a great time talking with customers. No matter the location, great people managed to find us.

8. Every conversation is a chance to connect

How often do we have the chance to really get to know people? How often do we miss that chance because things are too busy, there is too much to do, and other things are demanding our attention?

One of the most gratifying things about doing so many shows was seeing the same people at two or even three events. It gave us the chance to connect more deeply and check-in over the course of the summer.

9. “No” is just as important as “Yes”

Stacia wrote about this so beautifully in her post about Etsy Open Call. It is a gift to hear “no” when your heart is set on “yes”. Even amidst the disappointment.

We heard “no” many times over the course of 10 shows. But each “no” helped us to understand our true customers better. Each “no” gave us the chance to see ourselves through the eyes of others. Each “no” presented the opportunity to learn, refine, grow, and improve. Each “no” made hearing “yes” all the sweeter.

10. Tackling something big is always worth the effort

Our second show and our tenth show were at the exact same venue, just three months apart. We had faced that show in May with such trepidation and anxiety. By the time we returned in August, we knew we had nothing to fear. We had grown and learned so much in such a short span of time. By tackling a monumental goal, we had gained confidence, picked up countless skills, and made so many friends along the way.

Don’t shy away from a big goal or an outrageous dream. Enjoy the journey, learn what you can, and share everything you know with others. It will always be worth the effort.

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